An interview with Noga Alon

Update: and here is a great interview of Noga in English and the interviewer is Narkis Alon, Noga’s youngest daughter and Amalya Duek.

I was very happy to interview my academic doctoral  twin and long-time friend Noga Alon.  The interview is an initiative of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. (This is my second interview of this kind. See here for an interview with Yisrael Aumann.) The interview is in Hebrew. (Update: Automatically-produced  English subtitles are available.)

For our English speaking readers here is a recent Numberphile video with Noga.

We agreed in advance that most of the interview would be about mathematics, and  most of the time  we courageously (and perhaps somewhat recklessly)  tried to explain to a large audience  (starting from scratch) some of Noga’s research directions and results. We hope that people will enjoy the beauty of it even with the missing details and background.

Noga’s parents, family and childhood

In the first part of the  interview  Noga talked about his family, his parents, Dror and Hemda, his great uncle Yigal Alon, his early childhood, and his early interest in mathematics. Noga liked to solve mathematical riddles from a young age. One reason Noga was drawn to mathematics is that unlike other topics, in mathematics there are absolute truths, and a mathematical proof (when such exists)  is perhaps the only way you can settle a debate. Noga gave an amusing example from his youth regarding the Eurovision song context. Then he mentioned the Hebrew Reali school in Haifa, a mathematics teacher there, Yaakov Kaplan,  newly immigrated from the former Soviet Union, who greatly influenced Noga. Noga also talked about his participation in the Israeli Mathematical Olympiad where the two of us first met 45 years ago.  Next, the two of us met during our military service, and in parallel to his service, Noga finished his M. Sc. and Ph. D with Micha A. Perles, who was also my supervisor.

An hour of mathematics

The mathematical part of the video starts with Noga’s  overview of combinatorics. Then we moved to specific topics.

(22:40- 33:30) Noga’s negative solution to Shannon’s conjecture about the capacity of two graphs (and a little about Claude Shannon and information theory)

(33:30- 40:25) The combinatorial nullstellensatz and the polynomial method and a little about the game SET

(40:25 – 46:50) The probabilistic method and a little on the history of probability and about Paul Erdos.

(46:50-  54:50)  Streaming algorithms, a topic introduced by Noga Alon, Yossi Matias, and Mario Szegedy, and more generally, about positive and negative results in computer science, and their practical applications.

(54:50 – 59:25)    Expander graphs and “spectroscopy of graphs”

59:25  -1:05:40 Ramsey theory

1:05:40-1:12:20 Factoring integers with quantum computers and with classical methods

1:12:00-1:20:00 Combinatorics, economics and game theory:  Noga’s theorem that large committees require a large budget!

Going back from mathematics to life itself

After a full hour of mathematics, we returned to life itself. Memories from our years as postdocs at MIT, and our 1993 conference in Jerusalem. Noga talked a little about women in science and in society, about his three daughters, about  the possibility that science, like sport,  can bridge different groups and different peoples, and about politics and prospects for better relations with our Arab neighbors and Iran (Noga is somewhat optimistic and so am I),  prospects about getting old (we are hopeful about it), and advice to young researchers. Noga’s message at the end was that there are many paths to mathematical research and he encouraged young people that like mathematics to follow and enjoy them.




Ramsey theory and a conjecture by Erdos and Sos

Probability theory and the probabilistic method



Pictures from our late twenties and a conversation about getting old.


Some advice to the young


Added later: As it turns out You tube has automatic translation to English which is reasonable. It does translate “Noga” to “Venus”.


This entry was posted in Combinatorics, Computer Science and Optimization, People and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to An interview with Noga Alon

  1. Golshani says:

    Can such an interview be made with Saharon Shelah (and in English, or at least with English subtitle)

  2. Gerhard says:

    “A mathematical proof (when such exists) is perhaps the only way you can settle a debate. Noga gave an amusing example from his youth regarding the Eurovision song context.”

    Could you please provide more information on this? Perhaps add the example to the text?

  3. seva says:

    Great interview, it was a pleasure to listen; thanks!

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